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SMALL OPERATORS - Small Ops Look to Tech in 2010

Sun, 02/28/2010 - 7:35pm
Craig Kuhl, Contributing Editor

Emerging technologies, pressing issues dominate NCTC conference

A full plate of emerging technologies and regulatory issue updates and a buffet of new hardware and equipment designed to improve and upgrade the smaller operator’s network were center stage at the National Cable Television Cooperative’s Winter Educational Conference, held in Long Beach, Calif., Feb. 23-24.

With pressing issues such as retransmission consent, broadband stimulus package decisions, net neutrality and a host of others facing small and independent cable operators, American Cable Association President and CEO Matt Polka outlined the challenges and opportunities in 2010 to a standing-room-only crowd.

Matt Polka delivered the 2010 outlook...

“We are most active on issues such as the Comcast/NBC Universal merger, national broadband stimulus package, universal service reform, retransmission consent and net neutrality. At year’s end, several issues had been resolved, but there are still some negatives like programming issues and discriminatory pricing,” Polka said.

One of the ACA’s biggest concerns, he noted, is the Comcast-NBC merger, which it believes will be harmful to smaller cable operators. “It will increase the incentive to charge higher programming prices. The more content you have, the more likely you’ll have leverage with programmers. That means higher programming prices for smaller operators.”

Pricing aside, there are emerging technologies that caught the attention of attendees during the “Charting Emerging Technologies” session.

Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), video over wideband, cable IPTV, tru2way, and 3-D on VOD were part of the top-10 technology trends for 2010, according to panelist Leslie Ellis, an industry analyst.

From the consumer electronics perspective, Deepak Joseph, director of technology and standards for the Consumer Electronics Association, added that connected TV and building Wi-Fi into TVs, as well as connecting and corralling, mobile TV, packaged media and fourth-screen technologies, will gather momentum in 2010.

Joseph admitted to some caveats, however: “How will customers manage cloud-based packaged media and mobile TV? And, with 20 percent of TVs expected to have Ethernet capability, will people use the applications on the connected devices sold? In people’s minds, there is no sense of urgency to access these applications.”

Nevertheless, several standards such as 802.11, MoCA, HomePNA, MediaXstream, 802.11n (a superset of the 802.11b/g/a standard) and others are gaining traction, said Ken Haase, a panelist and senior director of product line management for Motorola.

Two in particular are capturing the technology world’s imagination, Haase said.

“We are doing lots of work on MediaXstream and trying to run content over two connections, be we need a single protocol,” Haase said. “But the fantastic idea is G.hn. There is still work to do, but it could be a difference-maker in the market. The interesting dynamic in cable is that there are data and video networks that will merge one day. So we’re working on lots of diagnostic tools for service providers.”

802.11n is also in the mix. Added Haase: “It will be ideal for video if certain things fall in place, like packet reliability.”

Analyst Leslie Ellis and Motorola's Ken Haase

Those tools could go a long way in meeting the increasing demands of the commercial market, a segment of growing importance to smaller cable operators, concluded Greg Euker, director of IP networks for Mediacom Communications Corp., during the session “Serving the Business Market.”

“There has been a huge demand for business services, so EPON, GPON and Ethernet have become very important. We’ve deployed loops to businesses built into the Sprint network, have added schools and are entering the retail market. And by building the network around an anchor tenant, we can service additional customers,” Euker said.

And there are more technologies on the way. Concluded Euker: “Who knows what’s next with RFoG and how much we’ll be able to divide with CWDM. We can now get in the door to hotels and businesses with the CWDM/RFoG combination.”

Letter to the Editor

I have to take issue with some of Craig Kuhl’s reporting of the NCTC conference. I too attended the NCTC Winter Educational Conference. I too sat in the “Charting Emerging Technologies” session. My takeaway was slightly different from what Mr. Kuhl writes, especially in reference to home networking.

While Ken Haase highlighted all of the available home networking technologies, he did, despite Mr. Kuhl’s bias, talk about MoCA as one of the available home networking technologies that allows both high bandwidth and high throughput. I can also verify – from personal experience manning our demonstration in the Technology Showcase, which Mr. Kuhl never made an effort to visit – that cable operators enthusiastically embraced MoCA technology, as it solves their requirement for immediate deployment of a home networking technology.

While Haase from Motorola did discuss a couple of interesting initiatives, he empathized during his talk that these technologies were just that – new ideas, unproved, with a long way to go before they become any sort of deployable reality. What we learned during the session is that real, proven and extensively deployed home networking technology is what matters to all paid service operators. For now and the foreseeable future, they have told us they’re voting on MoCA.

– Janice Ozguc, director of business development at MoCA


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